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Ingleside Merchants Want Marketing Help. Will The City Act?
Merchants said the marketing campaigns should be designed to attract residents and visitors alike for dining, shopping and cultural events.
Call it the summer doldrums on COVID-19.
With the latest variant causing rising infections, City College of San Francisco instruction mostly online and the high schools out for summer, neighborhood merchants are concerned about the economic vitality of Ingleside’s stretch of Ocean Avenue.
Little Oceanauts co-owner Kyle Wong said business is slow even for summer. The indoor children’s play area and event space has not yet recovered from the pandemic drop off.
“It hasn't returned to what we were anticipating for summertime,” Wong said.
Barry Yeung, co-owner of Sakesan, said he noticed foot traffic was surprisingly slow in the daytime after opening his boba tea spot Sweet Cupz at a corner location earlier this month.
Ahmad Murad, owner of That’s Amore Woodfired Pizza, said foot traffic fell once Target left the 1800 block of Ocean Avenue in June 2021, which still wasn’t as good as before the pandemic.
Public transit ridership shows part of the picture. Total trips at Balboa Park BART station was 86,054 in May 2022 down from 248,758 trips in May 2019, a 65% decrease. Muni ridership hovers at 50% across the city.
Ingleside Merchants Association, which The Ingleside Light belongs, has called for increased neighborhood marketing. City hall allocated $6 million this week for storefront pop-ups, anchor events and the arts in the hard-hit downtown.
“It's been rough these past few years, even before the pandemic,” Loc Tham Real Estate co-owner and IMA Vice Chair Peter Tham said. “The lack of marketing means that our local businesses don't have the added exposure needed to draw in more traffic and more business.”
Copy Edge co-owner Jenny Gin wants events and promotional campaigns to attract residents and visitors alike for dining, shopping and cultural events.
“Advertising the Ocean Avenue corridor is good for business,” Gin said.
The San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s Invest in Neighborhoods division manages over a dozen community benefit districts and business improvement districts that provide additional cleaning, maintenance, beautification and marketing to different areas paid for by property owners through special assessment dollars.
The city’s Board of Supervisors contracted the Ocean Avenue Association to manage the Ocean Avenue Community Benefit District in 2010. The nonprofit organization is required to implement a cleaning, maintenance and safety program along with a marketing, streetscape and beautification program. [Disclosure: This reporter worked for the OAA until early 2021.]
With a modest budget of $53,000, the OAA’s Marketing & Beautification program for the July 2021 to June 2022 fiscal year included advertising, printing, sidewalk gardens and trees among other expenses. The OAA’s two full-time staff spent $2,463 of the $23,500 budgeted for advertising and none of the $12,500 for sidewalk gardens and trees, according to its May 2022 budget report.
The OAA’s executive director said there were a number of reasons why the programming didn’t happen, mainly because the board didn’t support a planned music events series.
OEWD monitors the organization’s spending to ensure funds are spent down on required programs within a 10% margin. OEWD Program Director Chris Corgas said he saw no red flags in the organization’s mid-year report filed in January.
“[T]he expenditures based off the May financials do look well below what they should be,” Corgas said.
Should the money not be spent this year, a special “spend down plan” would be implemented to make sure it’s spent accordingly next year, according to Corgas.
“The OAA was established to take care of these things and it's hard to understand why it hasn't been done,” realtor Tham said. “As a former board member, I think that there is a lack of accountability and oversight.”
District Seven Supervisor Myrna Melgar called for an audit of the organization at the June 28 board of supervisors meeting so “the public and the members can be assured that the work is being done efficiently into the best quality possible.”
Former OAA board member, IMA chair and property owner who pays into the district, Ocean Ale House co-owner Miles Escobedo said he thought it was important the organization get audited.
“I think that's part of the accountability that should have been done sooner but I think over the last two years the Ocean Avenue Association really has let us down,” Escobedo said.
In June 2021, Melgar allocated $58,500 to OEWD for a budget item called the “District 7 Economic Recovery Fund” that went to OAA in late May through a no-bid contract for the OAA board of directors to receive training and for the OAA to fiscally sponsor the Juneteenth event held in Unity Plaza and a forthcoming Taste of OMI event in July, according to OEWD.
Melgar said she hopes the OAA board takes the training seriously.
“I hope that they take up my advice and do some capacity building and professional development,” Melgar said.
Tham said it was too bad IMA couldn't bid on projects in the District 7 Recovery Fund.
"It would have been great to have that chance if OEWD had gone through the appropriate protocols," Tham said.
In 2020, the Ingleside Merchants Association held five community meetings about the vision for how the neighborhood could come out of the pandemic.
The result was an economic strategy that called for storefront facade improvement grants, neighborhood marketing services, expediting the development of the former El Rey theater, the creation of a “Town and Gown” committee between City College and community and the creation of a neighborhood public art plan.
In 2021, the strategy was shared with the district supervisor and OEWD but no funds were allocated.
“Corridor marketing is imperative to drawing pedestrian traffic and driving business to our merchants on Ocean Avenue,” Tham said. “It's one support item that many merchants have requested.”
IMA used a $50,000 grant from the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations Community Fund and Avenue Greenlight in 2022 to do a neighborhood event called Ingleside Fest and lay the ground work for future neighborhood marketing activities.
For Copy Edge’s Gin marketing and events need to be paired with a variety of new businesses to make the neighborhood alluring to visitors.
“We need more variety of businesses to open up and maybe more events to honor and celebrate the various ethnicities is important since such events will bring people to the neighborhood and explore what we have to offer,” Gin said.
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